“I’m not really a fan of Francesinha,” I said. Cue horrified faces from the people that had just begun raving about their new Porto food tour.
After admonishing me to never utter those words in Porto, where the Francesinha is revered, they explained that ‘theirs’ is no ordinary meat and cheese sandwich drenched in a beer sauce. Once I’d heard what else was included in the tour and how some of the venues hold special memories for the Cooltour team, I agreed to give the food tour a go.
All I had to do to persuade Mike to join me was add the words ‘craft beer’.
Francesinha and craft beer on a Porto food tour
Our walking tour began outside one of Porto’s beautiful blue and white churches, where we learned how the Francesinha (Little French Girl) came about.
Hint: The story revolves around a Portuguese guy and his ‘spicy’ French girlfriend. I’m not sure how impressed she would have been to have a sandwich named after her but nevertheless, Francesinha has become one of Porto’s most famous foods.
Armed with this background information, we entered a micro brewery for a brief tour of the beer production facilities before tucking into a mini Francesinha.
This was actually quite tasty, helped in no small part by the fact that they use quality meat products, and their own craft beer for the sauce. We also had a small glass of rich, flavourful lager to wash it down with.
Note: I still think a whole portion of Francesinha is far too much for anyone without a hangover to tackle so if you’re merely curious, this is a good way to sample it.
Cod based snacks, always a winner in Portugal
As we walked through the city streets to the next establishment, Inês pointed out interesting buildings and regaled us with tales of Portuguese history.
Cod (bacalhau) is a staple when it comes to Portuguese food, even though it’s actually imported from Norway and Canada. No non-vegetarian restaurant would dare leave bacalhau off the menu and you’ll encounter many ways of serving it when you visit Portugal.
For the purposes of the food tour, we were sampling two fried cod snacks. The misshapen cod fritters, i.e. pataniscas de bacalhau and the neater bolinho de bacalhau, which is a fish and potato cake, are a common feature in the display cabinets of most pastelarias (bakeries). However, they come into their own when freshly cooked and still hot. I sometimes have them for lunch with tomato rice.
Ours were served with traditional Portuguese corn bread (broa) and what Inês described as a ‘poor man’s rosé wine’. Espadal, as it’s called, is perfectly drinkable as far as I’m concerned.
Canned fish from Portugal
Although the sardine canning industry in Portugal has dwindled since its heyday, it was once a major part of the economy. Some factories are still very much in operation and strangely enough, tourism has helped to boost demand.
I’ve visited a couple of sardine canning factory museums, one in Portimão in the Algarve and another in Setúbal, and an inescapably important element of canned fish has always been the packaging. The attractive, colourful tin designs helped distinguish brands and boost sales and are now collectors items.
There are specialist shops dedicated to selling canned fish from all over Portugal, not just sardines (and I don’t mean the gimmicky over-priced shops with your birth year on the can).
In one canned fish store, we also got the chance to sample garfish (picas in Portuguese), which I’d never heard of before but actually really enjoyed. Especially with a glass of chilled white vinho verde (young wine) from the nearby Minho region.
Time for one of Portugal’s most beloved cakes, the Bolo de Berlim
Having had our fill, for the time being, of savoury Portuguese food, we set off for a rather special bakery.
This is the place where Ricardo, the boss, used to come with his grandmother but there’s more to this venue than fond memories. Behind the rather drab, unassuming exterior lies an extraordinary ceiling, painted by the same artist who was commissioned to paint the interiors of Porto’s São João Theatre. Unfortunately, my photos didn’t do it justice.
Best of all, though, are the bolos de Berlim. Whenever I’ve had these popular Portuguese cakes before, they’ve been quite doughnut-like, i.e.rounded, deep fried and coated with sugar. These were flatter, less sweet and almost brioche-like, filled with eggy cream.
They are ginormous but I troughed my way through my half effortlessly. With a coffee, of course.
Chocolate truffles and handmade sweets
Porto’s oldest chocolatier has been hand-crafting chocolates since 1933 but we were in for an additional treat when we visited just before Easter.
The ladies in the workshop behind the storefront were busy painting and sticking leaves and faces onto liqueur-filled sugar sweets. They beckoned us in to watch them at work, which was fascinating.
The port wine truffles were much tastier than the sweets though.
Portuguese cheese and wine by the river
Tucked inside the sturdy 14th century walls that once contained the citadel of Porto, there’s a wine bar with views of the river. What better way to end a Porto food tour than with a couple of glasses of Douro wine and a selection of Portuguese cheese?
I couldn’t think of one.
How to book this Porto food tour
Use this link to check availability and book your place on this small group food tour (minimum 2, maximum 10 people).
Note: This is a walking tour but you don’t actually cover much ground and the establishments are fairly evenly distributed with no significant uphills. Bring comfortable shoes and an empty stomach.
More Porto travel tips
Porto guide books
Aside from my self-guided walking tour of Porto, if you’re spending a long time in the city, you may find a dedicated Porto guidebook useful, and perhaps a city map. You can pick up free paper maps from the airport and tourist information offices but they won’t cover the outlying areas.
Click on any of these to get more details from Amazon:
Choose between the Lonely Planet Pocket Porto Travel Guide andPocket Rough Guide Porto for a city-specific guide book.
If you want something more robust than the free city maps, try thisPorto map
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